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What’s wrong with the Chicago Bears offense — and can it be fixed? Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts on the Week 3 loss to the Cleveland Browns. – Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune

Sep 27, 2021 5:21 AM

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CLEVELAND — 10 thoughts after the Chicago Bears had a historically inept offensive showing in a humiliating 26-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

1. If you didn’t take yourself away from social media during or immediately after this disaster, you might have seen a clip from the Fox broadcast with an up-close shot of backup quarterback Nick Foles.

Foles appears to say, “This offense just isn’t working.” Just so we’re clear, whether Foles said this or not, the offense certainly was not working.

Maybe you deemed social media an unhappy place for Bears fans to be after the game. In that case, you probably missed Jimmy Graham retweeting after the game a post from the NFL on CBS account with a photo of a sad looking Staley and news that the Bears’ 1.1 yards per offensive play (47 net yards on 42 plays) was the second-worst performance this century. Digging deeper, Pro Football Reference shows only eight worse performances in the Super Bowl era in terms of yards per play.

This was an offensive abomination from every angle. Usually you can sift through a bad game, even a really bad game, and find a little something here or there that can be a silver lining or a positive for an individual player or two in an otherwise awful team effort. The only positive Sunday is the Bears didn’t get rookie quarterback Justin Fields hurt with their combination of play calling — going for it on fourth-and-10 on their 25-yard line down 20 points with 3:02 remaining? — and poor offensive line play.

While the rest of the team went to the locker room to shower, change and get out of town as quickly as possible, Fields was sent to the X-ray room at FirstEnergy Stadium to have his throwing hand checked out. Fortunately, those tests came back negative.

“There’s the anticipation of the way things go, and I obviously as a head coach did not do a good enough job of getting this offense ready to go,” Matt Nagy said. “So it starts with me, ends with me and it’s as simple as that.”

“It starts with me.” That was Nagy’s primary talking point in a postgame news conference that lasted about 12 minutes. Five times he leaned on that phrase to take accountability. What does that mean? Maybe Nagy will acknowledge to his players the game plan wasn’t the best. Maybe he will tell them that, in retrospect, he wishes the Bears had put a greater emphasis on getting Fields out of the pocket and on the move, both to take advantage of his athleticism and to help protect an offensive line that was clearly overmatched.

A good leader will stand there and take the heat, but until changes are made, until there’s some legitimate reason for offensive optimism, they’re just words.

“I know the offensive guys care,” Nagy said. “I know they’re going to get right back to the drawing board and figure out why. Same thing with the coaches. But with me, it’s going to start there and I’m going to make sure that this gets fixed.”

Maybe the Bears would be better off if this message were being delivered with a bye week ahead, at least giving the coaches more time to brainstorm for solutions. Maybe it’s best the Bears are right back at it this week, hosting the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field. The quickest way to forget about this disaster is to go out and win a game.

“When you look at games like this as a competitor, it’s hard to do with these numbers where we are at offensively,” Nagy said. “The competitor in you gets frustrated, but at the same point in time, I think that’s one of my greatest strengths is my care and my want to get this thing fixed. We have to rebound by staying positive with the coaches and the players.”

Here’s the deal: Nagy can give the thumb-pointing, “I’m going to make sure that this gets fixed” speech only once this season. It’s his responsibility. Everyone is in agreement on that. He can’t recycle this one later and expect players to take him seriously. This is it. Either he will get to the bottom of things and make changes that prove effective, or it will be a long and aggravating season.

When you look at what Nagy said postgame, you realize it sounds a lot like what he said about the running game in London after a Week 5 loss to the Raiders in 2019.

“The production right now in the run game isn’t there,” Nagy said the morning after that game. “I’m going to go back and I’m going to figure out the ‘why’ part.

“I think I know. Obviously I’m not going to go back and tell everybody what I think it is at the end, but we’ll talk as a staff and figure it out. They’re good people that care. If you have that, that matters. They care. We’ve just got to figure out why.”

Nagy more or less recirculated a version of that when the running game was nonexistent during the first half of last season. The Bears were 3-2 at the time of that 2019 loss to the Raiders, and remember, they got off to a 5-1 start last season. The schedule is more daunting this year, the Bears are now 1-2 and there’s an expectation that the future is bright with Fields.

Circling back to the retweet by Graham, who played seven snaps by my unofficial count (not including plays wiped out by penalty), the Bears are fortunate the locker room is closed to media during the COVID-19 pandemic. This allows them to handpick a couple of players to bring to a media room, guys they are confident will toe the party line. The last thing they want is veteran players sharing their thoughts while still emotional after such a bad loss.

Everything else about the pandemic has been bad for the Bears, bad for everyone else. They’re thanking their lucky stars players didn’t have the chance to vent after this. Who knows? Maybe it leads to a doozy or two on social media.

2. Of the people who were calling for Justin Fields to be the starter, the vast majority of those I heard from didn’t stop to consider it was possible the first-round draft pick wasn’t ready.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields runs the ball while getting pressure from the Browns defense during the third quarter on Sept. 26 2021.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields runs the ball while getting pressure from the Browns defense during the third quarter on Sept. 26 2021. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

Sure, many readers will place the vast majority of blame on Matt Nagy, and his game plan certainly appeared to be poor. Why didn’t he move the pocket more, get Fields on the run, challenge the Browns on the edges? Nagy indicated after the game the Browns had mechanisms to thwart that. You still have to try, right? He also said he didn’t want to get into scheme.

But Fields’ performance was abysmal. He completed 6 of 20 passes for 68 yards and ran only three times for 12 yards. He had seven passes broken up by a Browns defender, meaning he was fortunate there wasn’t an interception or two. He was sacked nine times and hit 15 times. A lot of that blame goes to the offensive line and maybe the game plan, but he didn’t look like the confident player we’ve seen up to this point. At times, it appeared he wasn’t sure where pressure was coming from.

If Fields isn’t ready now, that doesn’t mean he won’t pan out. That doesn’t mean he won’t be ready later this season. It’s possible he’s not as advanced as Nagy has proclaimed when the coach has said the rookie is ahead of where the Bears figured he would be at this point. It’s possible he still needs to learn how defenses are going to play him. It’s possible he has to stop holding the ball so long.

I got a call from a veteran scout Sunday night who had told me last week he really liked Fields’ chances of panning out. He said he thought Fields would become a good quarterback but didn’t know if he ever would be great.

“I’d take him over Baker Mayfield right now,” he said.

But the game plan left him stupefied.

“I’m just looking at this from the outside, OK. It’s not like I’m there,” he said. “But if you watched that game, I don’t know how you could come away from it thinking that there was a single adjustment made from Andy Dalton to Justin Fields. That’s just an observation. It looks the same to me. It should not look the same, right? As much as I like Fields, he might be best served with more time watching too. You could reach that conclusion quickly after a game like that.”

“The O-line was really poor,” another scout said. “He looked like a young quarterback in his first start. Did not see the field very well. Did not see it fast enough. Was hooked on the read side of the field without coming back and taking the swing or the under, get rid of the football, get it out of your hands. Nagy could have done more. No question about that. Fields was in a lot of pure drop-back situations. Right now, they need to get him on the move and make it really clear and defined for him.

“Give credit to Cleveland, though, they were all over this. They were all over the routes. They were snugged up in coverage and they did a hell of a job. There was no room over the top. They totally outclassed the Bears up front. Justin has to take the underneath throw when it’s there. Get 5 yards. That was one of his issues at Ohio State. He’d lock on to that No. 1 receiver and hold it and hold it and wait for him to separate. He’s not playing in the Big Ten anymore.”

Nagy said last Monday that Dalton — when he is healthy — will be the starting quarterback. That led to eye rolls across the city from those who figured Fields would take the job and run with it and Dalton would serve as a No. 2 when he returns from a left knee injury. Who knows? Maybe Fields will be leaps and bounds better against the Lions this week and everyone can take a deep breath. Or maybe Nagy did a really poor job with Fields and Fields would be best served with more time to develop.

There’s a good chance Fields starts against the Lions. Dalton was on the sideline Sunday, but most believe he will be out at least one more week. The good news is the team did not place him on injured reserve. That means he might be healthy enough to be in the mix for the Week 5 game against the Raiders on Oct. 10 in Las Vegas. I don’t believe Nick Foles is an option for the Bears right now. You know how fire extinguishers are encased in glass with a sign that reads, “In case of emergency, break glass”? For Foles it’s, “In case of two emergencies, break glass.”

We’ll see how much Nagy, Fields and everyone else learned from this game.

3. Jimmy Graham should not be the only player upset on offense.

Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson (12), offensive tackle Jason Peters (71), and running back David Montgomery (32) head to the locker room after a 26-6 loss to the Browns on Sept. 26, 2021.

Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson (12), offensive tackle Jason Peters (71), and running back David Montgomery (32) head to the locker room after a 26-6 loss to the Browns on Sept. 26, 2021. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

The Bears have been so bad throwing the football, they’ve found a way to make Allen Robinson ineffective. This is a guy who has put up sterling career numbers playing primarily with Blake Bortles in Jacksonville and Mitch Trubisky with the Bears. Robinson has 10 receptions for 86 yards through three games. From 2018 through 2020, Robinson had 86 yards or more in 14 games. With the exception of a nice move to convert a third down last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, Robinson has been a total nonfactor in the offense. He was targeted six times against the Browns and caught two passes for 27 yards. He has been targeted 21 times through three games and isn’t threatening defenses.

Graham’s frustration is obvious. He’s barely getting on the field. He was targeted once and didn’t make a play on the ball. He has played 43 snaps through three games. Game flow and situations maybe limited the Bears from getting to stuff with multiple tight ends, but that can’t be an excuse every week.

How about Darnell Mooney? Matt Nagy compared him to big-play threats Tyreek Hill and DeSean Jackson in the offseason. He’s the guy who should be able to take the top off defenses — or at least threaten them with go routes — off play action. I know that means blocking it up, but there’s nothing wrong with max protection and a shot over the top. Mooney has 12 receptions for 101 yards. He was targeted four times in Cleveland with one catch for 9 yards. He won’t make a name for himself in this league as a possession receiver.

Damiere Byrd has become the third receiver whom defenses can ignore. I had him unofficially with 33 snaps and he wasn’t targeted. That would give him 86 snaps for the season. He has been targeted three times with three catches for 19 yards.

Where is this all leading? Well, you could wonder about what Muhsin Muhammad said many years ago, that Chicago “is where receivers go to die.” Even before the last two Week 3 games were played, the Bears were 32nd in the NFL in passing yards, and they’re averaging 2.7 yards per pass attempt.

4. The shame of it is the Bears spoiled a pretty good effort by the defense.

Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack chases after Browns running back Nick Chubb during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sept. 26 2021.

Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack chases after Browns running back Nick Chubb during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sept. 26 2021. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

It would have looked considerably better had the Browns not run 36 more offensive plays (78 to 42) and held the ball for nearly twice as much time — 39 minutes, 34 seconds to 20:26. A pass rush that got after the Bengals last week was revved up again as the Bears sacked Baker Mayfield five times and the front seven gave the Browns fits for nearly the entire game.

The Browns turned the ball over on downs on their first possession when Robert Quinn and Angelo Blackson shared a sack on fourth-and-5 from the Bears 38. The Browns went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Bears 20 on their next possession, and Khalil Mack dropped Mayfield for an 11-yard loss on what looked to be a broken play.

As awful as the offense was, the Bears were down only 10-3 at halftime and 13-6 after three quarters. One tipped pass, one fumble scooped up, one big return and it could have been a tie game because the defense was doing its part.

“They are very talented up front,” Mayfield said. “There is no other way around it. Our O-line is great as well, but whenever you play a team like that, you have to find ways to eliminate their strength. I have to find ways to get the ball out of my hands quicker and have to find ways to eliminate that to where they do not get that smell of blood in the water.”

Defensive coordinator Sean Desai introduced a new wrinkle by having cornerback Jaylon Johnson travel with wide receiver Odell Beckman Jr., who was playing for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last season. That’s not something the Bears have done much of in recent years. Former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was hesitant to do it most of the time. Johnson didn’t eliminate Beckham by any measure as the veteran caught five passes for 77 yards, and it was interesting to see the strategy in play.

The sample size is pretty small, but it’s interesting to note that Desai has been dialing up more man coverage in the secondary than the Bears had been in recent years. Through the first two weeks, they were playing 38% man coverage in the secondary, the sixth-highest figure in the league. They were in man coverage 31% of the time against the Browns.

Being on the field as long as the defense was had an effect. The Browns had 114 rushing yards through three quarters. They added 101 in the fourth quarter.

“You just have to keep fighting,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “You can’t look at all the circumstances because at the end of the day, we all signed a contract. Go out and play ball. I don’t worry about how much I’m out on the field. It’s just when I’m out there, I have to give it everything I’ve got. And I’m sure everyone else feels the same way.”

I’m not sure where the Bears will assign blame for tight end Austin Hooper’s 13-yard touchdown reception with 19 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Smith didn’t carry him and free safety Eddie Jackson was occupied. Smith had to know the Browns, with no timeouts, weren’t going to throw the ball in front of him at the 5-yard line. Maybe he’s supposed to carry Hooper on that play.

The fourth-down stops were great, but the Bears defense needs to be better on third down. The Browns converted 8 of 17 and opponents are 20 for 41 (48.8%). That’s not good enough. But Desai is still settling in, there are some obvious tweaks and the pass rush is working. I don’t know if this can be a top-10 defense but it’s possible.

5. The Pro Football Hall of Fame released the list of 122 modern-era nominees for the Class of 2022.

It includes 10 players in their first year of eligibility: former Bears returner/wide receiver Devin Hester, wide receivers Anquan Boldin, Andre Johnson and Steve Smith, offensive linemen Jake Long and Nick Mangold, defensive linemen Robert Mathis and Vince Wilfork, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and defensive back Antonio Cromartie.

Hester’s candidacy — a slam dunk in the minds of Bears fans — will be fascinating to explore as there has never been a player elected whose greatest impact was in the return game. I firmly believe Hester will get in. I don’t know if it will happen in Year 1, but the case to induct him will be very compelling and if he doesn’t make it in 2022, that doesn’t mean he won’t in the near future. The committee of Hall of Fame selectors has a really difficult task every year of choosing the most deserving players.

Only three pure specialists are in the Hall of Fame: punter Ray Guy and kickers Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen. George Blanda (also a quarterback) and Lou Groza (also an offensive tackle) were kickers but not primarily. Hester would stand alone in Canton, Ohio, as a return specialist if he’s elected.

“I think Hall of Fame voters have become more open-minded about players at all positions,” NBC Sports’ Peter King said during a phone conversation last week. “If you look at what has happened at the safety position in the last five or six years (John Lynch, Steve Atwater, Troy Polamalu, Donnie Shell, Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins and Kenny Easley inducted), what you see is that probably for a 20-year period, there might have been one or two pure safeties put in. Now we all realize as a group that we ignored the safety position in a lot of ways, and so there has been a gold rush. The door might be open, who knows, for a LeRoy Butler or whoever. What I mean to say is not only are there people now looking at positions like safety, which was ignored for a long time, I believe specialists are going to get a longer look than they probably did when I first got on the committee — I hate to say it — it’s been 30 years.

“Special teams plays are about 20% to 22% of snaps in an average NFL game. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, we’re going to be electing speed receivers who don’t play every down and people think, ‘Well, speed receivers are worth it. They’re explosive guys and all that.’ Devin Hester had 14 punt returns for touchdowns. He’s peerless in explosive plays in the punt return game in NFL history. So you have that and you just have the recognition that special teams is probably more important than maybe people thought it was a generation ago when they analyzed the game. I am in the minority where I think that Steve Tasker, Brian Mitchell and maybe one day Matthew Slater should be very seriously considered for the Hall. But I think right now, in my opinion, Devin Hester stands above them as someone who in my lifetime covering the game was the most dangerous return person.

“There are others who have better punt return averages and kickoff return averages. That, to me, is not necessarily the point. Paul Zimmerman (the longtime outstanding writer for Sports Illustrated known as Dr. Z) used to say, ‘Did you watch the game?’ When people might be rattling off statistics about a certain player or certain position, Paul would say, ‘Did you watch the game? How did he impact the game?’ I’m not saying we don’t need to watch the game because for some players you didn’t need to watch the game when you look at Dan Marino’s statistics, let’s say, or Emmitt Smith’s statistics. They speak for themselves and they’re going to walk into the Hall of Fame. But there are some people where you just have to say, ‘Did you watch the game?’ Devin Hester is one of those people you would say that about if you were serious about watching football over the last 25 years. He’s been, in my opinion, far and away the most dangerous return man to play in the NFL.”

Mike Sando, who covers the NFL for The Athletic and is also a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, said he’s intrigued about discussing Hester’s candidacy as the process unfolds in the coming months.

“Because he doesn’t fit into any of the usual categories,” Sando said. “For most players, if you’re a receiver, you start out with where does he rank on the yards list. We can get more detailed but there are just some basic things. For specialists, we don’t have a process or criteria because most of them don’t rise to the level of affecting the game so much. Hester completely affected every game he was in even when he didn’t have a stat because teams kicked away from him. There was the whole concept of, ‘What the hell were you doing kicking to Hester?’ The special teams coach and the guy on the couch are both saying the same thing.

“That said, I think we just have to have a great discussion, talk about it more and figure out how much he did affect the game. Who else would get in? Are there five specialists who should get in? Three? In my head, I don’t know what the answer is. I am totally open-minded. But I have to go through this process and figure it out.”

Sando got to thinking during our conversation and started diving into some statistics, using EPA (expected points added) when analyzing teams by defense and special teams. Since 2000, the 2006 Bears rank second behind only the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Next, he looked at EPA for special teams only, also since 2000. The 2007 Bears ranked No. 2. The 2006 Bears were No. 4. The 2008 Bears were No. 21. The 2011 Bears were No. 24. That’s out of a total of 702 teams. Of course, Hester played a huge role on those teams.

“That’s pretty good,” Sando said. “I am curious enough about it that I would like to research it as I get ready for the Hall discussions. I’m kind of excited about him. There are so few (specialists) that really just dominated a game. It’s really intriguing because clearly he is a game-plan consideration. He’s a fun one. How many 70-plus-yard touchdowns did he have? Where does he rank in that? What about 60-yard touchdowns?”

Sando’s questions led me to dive into some of the numbers. From 2006 (Hester’s rookie season) to present, Hester ranks second with 22 touchdowns of 60 or more yards in the regular season and postseason combined. Only DeSean Jackson (26) has more. Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill and free-agent running back Adrian Peterson are tied for third with 16. In that same span, Hester has the most touchdowns of 70 or more yards with 16 — four more than Hill and five more than Jackson.

Former Tribune sports writer Dan Pompei, now with The Athletic, will have the task of presenting the case. Hester is in good hands as Pompei did sterling work in promoting Bears players Jimbo Covert, Brian Urlacher (elected on first ballot), Richard Dent and others.

I wondered if Hester’s status as a first-time eligible player will be a factor.

“I don’t give (a hoot) about the first ballot,” King said. “I vote for the best guys in any year. I don’t say, ‘Well, wait a minute, he’s got to stay in line.’ I will say this: If it is an absolute, rock-solid even call, if you’ve got two guards who are absolutely even and I know that I am going to vote for both of them to eternity because I think they both deserve it and it comes down to I’ve got one spot left, I might consider the guy who has been in there, let’s say, for nine years and another guy there for three years. But that’s the only time I ever consider it, if it’s absolutely 50-50.

“Otherwise, I don’t care. Our job is not to say who is the best first-year player, who is the best ninth-year player? Our job is to determine who are the best players of this year? If Devin Hester, in a given year, is one of the best players, he’s going to get my vote.”

6. Greg Olsen’s career has taken off quickly as an analyst for Fox.

Seahawks tight end Greg Olsen on the field before a game against the Cowboys on Sept. 27, 2020.

Seahawks tight end Greg Olsen on the field before a game against the Cowboys on Sept. 27, 2020. (Stephen Brashear/AP)

That’s not a surprise as the former Bears tight end was always insightful and engaging during his playing career. He completed his 14th season last year and is already paired with play-by-play voice Kevin Burkhardt on the network’s No. 2 team, seeing the Bears for the first time in Cleveland.

Olsen hopes Cole Kmet’s career takes off soon. Olsen hosted Kmet on one episode of a podcast series he did during the summer of 2020 called TE1. Then they got together this past summer in Nashville, Tenn., at TEU, the tight ends summit that many of the NFL’s best attended.

“On the podcast we talked about the evolution of the tight ends to the modern day,” Olsen said. “We started with (Mike) Ditka and we ended with Kmet and kind of did like a Chicago-to-Chicago (connection) with my career sprinkled in and a bunch of other guys. He was nice enough to come on and I got to know him and talk to him. He hadn’t even played yet for the Bears, so it was a lot of what it would be like and what my experience was like playing in the shadow of Ditka and what comes with that. He was awesome.

“When he came down to Nashville, I was really impressed with him. He’s a big, physical, imposing-looking dude. He can run. Had a great way to him. I enjoyed working with him.”

Kmet’s opportunities in the passing game were few and far between during his first year. His playing time expanded in the second half of the season, but he was targeted only 44 times, making 28 catches for 243 yards. Olsen wasn’t heavily involved in the Bears passing game during his rookie season either. He caught 39 passes for 391 yards and two touchdowns. That’s not uncommon because the learning curve for tight ends transitioning from college to the NFL is considerable.

Kmet caught one pass for 11 yards against the Browns. For the season, he has been targeted 12 times with seven catches for 53 yards. Nothing has gotten going on offense, Fields and the tight ends included.

“Talent and all of that is a given, but so much of it is just opportunities and whether it’s a priority within the system,” Olsen said. “If it’s not, and they’re just going to throw you a bone here and there, it makes it really hard to get into a flow, get into a rhythm and show any level of production. Anytime you’re not productive in the NFL, people just assume it’s because of you. You’re underperforming, you’re not a good player, you’re not open.

“Reality is if you’re a priority in the system and they’re going to make a conscious effort every week to game-plan you into the system, you might not have a blowout game every week, but over the course of a full season your production will match that priority if you have the skill set. So I think he has the skill set. I think right now they’re trying to figure out how does the tight end role really impact the team? You would think with Justin (Fields) coming in, maybe a younger guy, they’ll go to the old cliche about the tight end is the quarterback’s best friend. It’s really true. Young quarterbacks can really rely on big bodies in the middle of the field. They’re easy throws. So I’d like to see them get him and Jimmy (Graham) involved, especially Cole as a young guy. He’s going to need some opportunities to show what he can do.

“There are a lot of factors that go into it. They’ve got to see what he can do. He’s good at the point of attack. He’s gotten a lot better. He’s a big, strong kid. He can hold the end. He can block. But at the end of the day, you’re paid for pass production. That’s the way it goes. Hopefully they give him a chance.”

Tight ends are the latest position to organize their own summer school. It’s something quarterbacks, offensive linemen and pass rushers have done. Nearly 50 tight ends got together at the symposium, which Olsen helped organize with George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers and Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs.

“When you have Kittle and Kelce and (Darren) Waller and guys giving presentations, they would isolate two or three different concepts that maybe was a big part of their scheme,” Olsen said. “And they would kind of teach the guys, hourlong (sessions), and they would have clips and guys would have questions about releases and leverages and depths of routes, just the little nuances of the plays. When you hear it from guys like that, it really goes a long way, and then we would try to go reinforce a lot of those classroom moments onto the field and work on guys’ releases and getting to edges and resetting stems and getting to our depth and separation. All of the little nuances as opposed to just running around.

“Route running for young guys is just run around, but guys who really start to understand the craft, there is an element of sophistication to it that is a reason guys like Kelce and them are always open. It’s not just because they’re running around.”

7. Right tackle Germain Ifedi was called for his third false start of the season at a crucial moment.

Bears offensive tackle Germain Ifedi looks at the video board while sitting on the sideline bench in the fourth quarter against the Browns on Sept. 26, 2021.

Bears offensive tackle Germain Ifedi looks at the video board while sitting on the sideline bench in the fourth quarter against the Browns on Sept. 26, 2021. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

The Bears had totaled 24 yards on three consecutive plays when Justin Fields sailed a pass way over Darnell Mooney on second-and-1 from the Bears 43. No problem, right? The game was tied 3-3 and it was third-and-1. Then Ifedi jumped early, it got pushed back to third-and-6 and Fields was sacked by Myles Garrett, who had a Browns-record 4½ sacks. The Bears punted and pinned Cleveland at its 11-yard line, and the Browns promptly drove 89 yards for the go-ahead score.

I’m not suggesting this was a turning point or that it would have been a different game if Ifedi didn’t have a false start. No way. But an offense that is so challenged can’t afford basic errors like this. It’s a killer for an offensive line that was ransacked. The Bears surrendered nine sacks, tied for the second-most allowed in club history. They gave up 10 in a 17-3 loss at the New York Giants on Oct. 3, 2010.

The Bears and New York Jets are tied for the most sacks allowed with 15 each. Left tackle Jason Peters looked like he was stuck in cement when asked to block Garrett. That’s a problem. It will remain a problem. I don’t think the Bears have the personnel to be making changes on the line. They need a better scheme coupled with better execution.

8. Justin Fields became the 17th rookie to start at quarterback for the Bears in the Super Bowl era.

The unusual list includes two players from the “Spare Bears” 1987 team who got their opportunities during the players strike as well as players who had prior pro experience in other leagues, such as Henry Burris (CFL) and Doug Flutie (USFL).

Fields is only the fifth Bears first-round draft pick to start at quarterback as a rookie, a reflection of how many times the Bears bypassed the position at the top of the draft. At least general manager Ryan Pace realized he needed to take multiple swings at the position in the last five drafts.

Here’s a look at the first start by the 17 rookie quarterbacks, with first-round picks in bold and asterisks denoting replacement players during a strike season. Of note, Kyle Orton’s debut came in the season opener, the only rookie to start earlier than Fields.

Warning: Some of these stat lines are grisly.

  • Justin Fields: Sept. 26, 2021, 26-6 loss at Cleveland Browns, 6-20, 58 yards, 9 sacks, 41.2 rating
  • Mitch Trubisky: Oct. 9, 2017, 20-17 loss to Minnesota Vikings, 12-25, 128 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack, 60.1 rating
  • Kyle Orton: Sept. 11, 2005, 9-7 loss at Washington, 15-28, 141 yards, 1 INT, 3 sacks, 52.8 rating
  • Craig Krenzel: Oct. 31, 2004, 23-13 win over San Francisco 49ers, 13-25, 168 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 5 sacks, 70.1 rating
  • Rex Grossman: Dec. 14, 2003, 13-10 win over Vikings, 13-20, 157 yards, 1 sack, 60.0 rating
  • Henry Burris: Dec. 29, 2002, 15-0 loss to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 7-19, 78 yards, 4 INT, 1 sack, 10.3 rating
  • Cade McNown: Oct. 17, 1999, 20-16 loss to Philadelphia Eagles, 17-33, 255 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 4 sacks, 62.1 rating
  • Moses Moreno: Nov. 29, 1998, 31-17 loss to Buccaneers, 18-41, 153 yards, 1 TD, 2 sacks, 62.3 rating
  • Will Furrer: Dec. 27, 1992, 27-14 loss at Dallas Cowboys, 9-23, 89 yards, 3 INT, 2 sacks, 11.2 rating
  • *Steve Bradley: Oct. 18, 1987, 19-17 loss to New Orleans Saints, 6-18, 77 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT, 3 sacks, 45.1 rating
  • *Mike Hohensee: Oct. 4, 1987, 35-3 win at Eagles, 12-22, 157 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 97.9 rating
  • Doug Flutie: Dec. 21, 1986, 24-10 win at Cowboys, 8-14, 152 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 3 sacks, 104.8 rating
  • Jim McMahon: Nov. 21, 1982, 20-17 win over Detroit Lions, 16-27, 233 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT, 3 sacks, 72.5 rating
  • Bob Avellini: Nov. 30, 1975, 28-7 loss at Green Bay Packers, 9-25, 109 yards, 3 INT, 4 sacks, 10.7 rating
  • Gary Huff: Dec. 2, 1973, 26-0 loss to Los Angeles Rams, 9-19, 79 yards, 4 sacks, 58.9 rating
  • Bobby Douglass: Oct. 19, 1969, 13-7 loss at Lions, 4-9, 41 yards, 1 TD, 4 sacks, 95.1 rating
  • Virgil Carter: Oct. 20, 1968, 29-16 win at Eagles, 10-24, 94 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 49.7 rating

9. No problem here with Matt Nagy sending out Cairo Santos for a 22-yard field goal with 1:46 remaining in the third quarter and the Bears facing fourth-and-2 from the Browns 4.

Bears kicker Cairo Santos kicks a field goal for the first points of the game in the first quarter against the Browns on Sept. 26, 2021.

Bears kicker Cairo Santos kicks a field goal for the first points of the game in the first quarter against the Browns on Sept. 26, 2021. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

The Browns led 13-3 at the time, and the last thing the Bears could do was not turn the generous 48-yard pass interference penalty into points. I know, the anti-Nagy crowd will spit back some of his recent comments about being aggressive here. It’s about being smart and practical. Take the points, turn it into a one-score game and then hope the defense can create a score or you break a big play to tie things. Maybe another factor? The Bears are 0 for 6 on fourth down this season.

“The points were hard and to be able to get that back to a one-score game was the why part,” Nagy said. “To come out of there with nothing would have been a little bit deflating, and if it was a little less than that — I think it was fourth-and-2 — it may have been a little different. I do like the fact (Fields) wants to be aggressive, but we also have to be smart too.”

There’s plenty of blame for Nagy from this game. This isn’t one of those areas.

10. Don’t think the Bears haven’t watched some of the early defensive struggles the Green Bay Packers have been going through.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers passes against the 49ers during the first half of a game on Sept. 26, 2021.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers passes against the 49ers during the first half of a game on Sept. 26, 2021. (Tony Avelar/AP)

Mike Pettine’s contract expired after the Packers’ loss in the NFC championship game last season, and there was considerable debate in Green Bay about whether the defensive coordinator was being scapegoated for the 39-yard touchdown by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Scotty Miller with one second remaining in the first half of that game.

Pettine wound up landing with the Bears as a senior assistant after Sean Desai was promoted to the coordinator role, replacing Chuck Pagano. The Packers hired Joe Barry as their coordinator with the idea he could bring with him from the Los Angeles Rams the blueprint for a Vic Fangio-style defense. Barry spent last season working with Brandon Staley (now the Los Angeles Chargers head coach) on the Rams staff.

So the Packers, who were bombed by the New Orleans Saints in the opener and then had a rough first half against the Detroit Lions in Week 2, are trying to find their way with a new scheme, while Pettine is now lending a hand to Desai as a veteran who has been a coordinator and a head coach. The Packers did look a little better Sunday night at San Francisco.

“Mike has been great,” Desai said. “Just like another assistant. We have all of our roles and responsibilities and he’s part of that. Having a veteran like that who has a lot of experience, we try to play to his strengths in terms of assignments and things that we’re giving him. He’s doing a lot of situational stuff, but that doesn’t preclude him from drawing the cards. He’s been outstanding in the room.”

Pettine is in the coaches booth on game days communicating with Desai, head coach Matt Nagy and others on the sideline. The only thing he isn’t doing is running a meeting room, but he has a clearly defined role. It has been a natural fit, at least for Desai, who says there is no intimidation that a more seasoned coach has a role with the defense.

“Not even close,” Desai said. “He’s been outstanding and that is a testament to his character.”

10a. Received an interesting text message Saturday night from a scout working for a team the Bears face later this season.

“Will be interesting to see how many plays he will make with his legs because you know that is going to be the default. I’m glad he’s playing already. Playing against those types of quarterbacks with no tape to study sucks.”

10b. I directly asked Matt Nagy on Friday if the situation surrounding nose tackle Eddie Goldman has become frustrating. He quickly replied, “Zero frustration,” but I have a hard time imagining this isn’t somewhat irksome for the organization. Goldman was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday before being held out Friday and designated as questionable on the injury report. Then the club announced Saturday afternoon Goldman did not travel with the team and was downgraded to out.

Typically, when the Bears have listed a player as questionable, he has a very good chance of playing. There no longer is a “probable” designation, so questionable is the most optimistic one. Last season, the Bears used the questionable designation 65 times during the regular season. On 55 occasions (84.6%), the player who was questionable played in the game. This season, 21 players have been questionable on Friday and 19 (90.5%) have gone on to play on Sunday, with the exceptions being Goldman this week and linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe (shoulder) in Week 1.

Remember, after Goldman was limited in practice on the Wednesday of Week 2, Nagy indicated things were “arrow up” for the run stuffer. That week, he didn’t practice on Thursday and Friday and wound up not playing. Sources indicated after Goldman’s Sept. 6 knee injury that it would be a minor issue keeping him out of one game, probably not more. We have yet to hear from Goldman himself, and additional scrutiny is required for a player who did not participate in the voluntary offseason program and then no-showed mandatory minicamp in June. We’ll see what direction this takes this week, but this hasn’t passed the smell test for quite some time.

10c. How about former Illinois kicker Chase McLaughlin, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2019? The Browns are his eighth team — that’s one-quarter of the league — but he’s off to a nice start having made all seven field-goal attempts this season, including a 57-yarder Sunday, the longest in team history at this stadium. He also connected from 52 yards.

10d. Cairo Santos connected on field goals from 47 and 22 yards and has now made a franchise-record 31 consecutive attempts going back to Week 3 of 2020.

10e. Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan is eligible to come off injured reserve this week. The team has offered no timeline for the veteran, who started in the preseason finale at Tennessee and then was moved to IR after the initial 53-man roster was established. I’d imagine the Bears will want to see him in practice, maybe for multiple weeks, before plugging him in as a starter in place of Alec Ogletree.

10f. The Fox crew of Gus Johnson, Aqib Talib and Megan Olivi will call Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.

10g. The Bears opened as four-point favorites over the Lions at Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.

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